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LAS VEGAS

Heading off a beaten Strip

Fine art, gospel and grits. This is Vegas? As the locals know, you can party by night, but there's still plenty to do by the light of day.

August 26, 2007|Kevin Capp | Special to The Times

While there are a lot of places to go and people to see in Las Vegas, those that pop into the addled minds of locals aren't necessarily those that pop into the minds of visitors.

To help you navigate the other Vegas -- that is, the one not so heavily advertised -- we've compiled a highly subjective, slightly silly but totally useful list of the best of the best in a variety of categories:

Best bar to see scary people play scary music: If you like your music loud, your drinks strong and your bars smoky, then the Double Down Saloon, www .doubledownsaloon.com, 4640 Paradise Road, (702) 791-5775, is your grimy paradise. Featuring an unholy drink called the Bacon Martini (buyer, beware) and enough tattooed, pierced and studded freaks listening to bands with a similarly, er, original fashion sense to stock Sid Vicious' bathroom, this place is the closest thing Vegas has to CBGB.

Best place to find religion: The Gospel Brunch, held twice every Sunday in the House of Blues, www.hob.com, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (702) 632-7600, exists at the intersection of live music, holy-rolling church services and good old-fashioned American gluttony. Which is to say it's an entertaining way for believers and secularists alike to soak up big-lunged singing while chowing down on countrified dishes. While the band plays tunes touched by God, you munch on cheddar cheese grits, prime rib and much, much more. Admission is $39 per person (children 11 and under are $20). Hallelujah!

Best museum to view quality art: The Las Vegas Art Museum, www.lvam.org, 9600 W. Sahara Ave., (702) 360-8000, is in the west side suburb of Summerlin, but it's the city's cultural epicenter. It's hosting a fantastic exhibit by local artists titled the 56th annual Art Roundup, a first-rate opportunity to peel away the city's glossy flesh and examine its beating heart as those who live here experience it. Best part is, it costs you nothing to cruise around the museum's three galleries.

Best place to ogle hotties and hear great music: Atop the Venetian hotel-casino is a pool party paradise known as Tao Beach, www.venetian.com, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (702) 388-8338. Owned and operated by the good folks who brought you Tao nightclub, also housed in the Venetian, this exclusive, chlorinated hideaway looks like a cross between a Bali seaside resort and the site of a Vanity Fair photo shoot, complete with models. There's no charge during the day, except on Saturdays, when you'll pay $20. Of course, you can always drop a grand or so and huddle inside a cabana stocked with everything from flat-screen TVs to refrigerators.

Best restaurant to eat good grub inexpensively: Northern Italian cuisine doesn't get any better -- or cheaper -- than that served at the Grill on Charleston, www.lvgrill.com, 241 W. Charleston Blvd. No. 101, (702) 362-8200, a small but elegant dining space near Vegas' burgeoning downtown. Here, you won't spend more than $15 an item, which includes pollo al ferri (juicy grilled chicken bathed in extra virgin olive oil) and 23 specialty pizzas, though you may have to wait for a table to clear -- unless you don't mind braving the summer heat and sitting outside. So authentic it would make Tony Soprano smile.

Best casino to gamble in and actually win: Anybody not suffering delusions of grandeur knows that winning big bucks in Vegas is more a lie than a promise. Unless you know where to go to even out those long odds. Hint: It ain't on the Strip. Sam's Town, www.samstown lv.com, 5111 Boulder Highway, (702) 456-7777, may be off the beaten path, but locals who actually want to win head here. Its 20-times odds on craps means the opportunity for a large payday. Good luck.

Best bars for a pub crawl: Downtown Vegas is experiencing a renaissance. Check out the Fremont Street Experience overhead. Hourly shows from dusk to midnight feature more than 12 million lights, a dazzling free show in the original glitter gulch. Then explore three of the city's hippest bars, all within easy walking distance. The Beauty Bar, www.beautybar.com, 517 Fremont St., (702) 598-1965, which has outlets across the country, has a vintage interior and genre-embracing soundtrack (everything from indie rock to '70s soul gets played either live or by a DJ). Next door is the Griffin, 511 Fremont St., (702) 382-0577, a dark drinking den whose visual centerpiece is a fireplace. The space gives off a speakeasy vibe. And just a stumble or two away is Downtown Cocktail Lounge, www.downtownlv.net, 111 S. Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 300-6268. Although finding the entrance may be a bit tricky -- the door looks more like a wall than an entrance -- its gregarious owner, Michael Cornthwaite, is usually there to help out. His spot features fine electronic music spun by fine local DJs. Plan on paying between $5 and $10 a drink at all three.

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